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See where Phnom Penh all started at the Humble yet Legendary Wat Phnom

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Phnom Penh. Capital of Cambodia. A growing city and one yearning to the bigs in the region along with Bangkok, Jakarta and Hanoi. Cambodia’s biggest city still hasn’t forgotten its roots though. Ever wonder what Phnom Penh means? Phnom is a word for hill and Penh is a name of a person. And this person built a temple on a hill which signifies the birth of this city. Let’s find out more about it.

The name Penh was actually from an old lady who built a temple on a hill here sometime in 1372. Legend has it that she found a large koki tree with some startling items in it – none other than four bronze Buddha statues and one stone statue of Vishnu. What would you do if you were her? Sell them perhaps? Keep them? Well, all Ms. Penh did was build a sanctuary for them, which eventually became Wat Phnom (translated into hill temple) and the hill itself known as Phnom Penh (literally meaning Penh’s hill). Because of this legendary act, there is a shrine of Grandmother Penh in between the stupa and the monastery at the temple. The woman is highly revered by the people here and many offer her food and prayers. And truly deserving of this praise, don’t you think?

But wait, there’s more. Another account of the founding of the temple occurs later in 1422. King Ponhea Yat built it when he moved the capital from Angkor to its current location during that year. To commemorate the king and the temple’s founding, the stupa west of the sanctuary contains his ashes.

Of course, the temple today looks quite different from how the temple may have looked over 500 or so years ago. Many features have been added to the complex, mainly statues and shrines which have been placed once in 1434, several times during the 19th century and once again in 1926. And to keep everything in mint condition, the sanctuary has been covered with new plaster and paint masking the wear and tear of more than half a millennium of existence.

The place is more than just a temple sanctuary. Many resident come here and hang out under the shades. The area’s monkeys provide the entertainment. Also, say hello to Wat Phnom’s long time resident Sam Bo, a 46 year old elephant who’s been around these parts for well over 28 years now.

Have a day to explore and discover? Find out more about the capital, its people and its heritage with our full day sightseeing tour of the city. Temples, ruins, beaches and simple rural living. Be a part of it via our Cambodia tours.

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